Thursday, November 23, 2017

17 Things I'm Thankful For

Happy American Thanksgiving everyone!

Here in Canada, we're working and eating zero turkey.  So I'm in no way thankful for that.  But I thought I'd do a cheesy post in honour of the American holiday that I'm not celebrating.  Because it's NaBloPoMo, and I will take ideas for posts anywhere I can find them.

This year, I'm thankful for:

  1.  The approaching weekend and the ability to sleep in.
  2.  Friends who have babies, so that I can cuddle them and give them back.
  3.  Taking myself out to dinner at a really tasty Ethiopian restaurant.  For $13.  With leftovers.
  4.  My best friends, Ben and Jerry, with whom I'll be spending some time after I finish this post.
  5.  My two hairy beasts, who think the best thing is cuddling with me on the couch. 


  6.  Taking a six-month hiatus from dating, thus postponing the horror of online dating sites.
  7.  My almost clutter-free apartment.
  8.  The fact that my mother is usually not as annoying as she was last night.
  9.  Almost an entire calendar year in the black!
  10.  My introversion, which makes being alone after a breakup kind of awesome.  (Sometimes.)
  11.  Picking up three more books from my favourite library.
  12.  Ivan Coyote.
  13.  My really warm winter coat, which makes Canada even better.
  14.  Universal healthcare (also something that makes Canada better).
  15.  A work trip that will take me to Paris in the Spring.
  16.  Duolingo for helping me learn to say "Une table pour une personne, s'il vous plaît".
  17.  Wine.

What are you thankful for this year?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

And Then I Disowned My Mother

I am home late and writing a very quick post because tonight was dinner and the theatre (pronounced "thee-a-tahhhh") with my Mom.  We had a really lovely time, right up until the point when she casually mentioned that she is planning to donate money to a Christian charity that is known for stating that gay people should be killed.

"Ummm...Mom....you know their stance on gay people, right?"

"Well.  People have a right to their own opinions."

"Sure.  But....uhhh....do you think that maybe you could not donate to a charity that thinks that your daughter should be killed because she happens to like women?  Maybe?"

She didn't see the problem. 

Because apparently the charity does good work.

Anyone want to adopt a 40-year-old doctor?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

When Things Are Just Hard

My ex-girlfriend came over this evening to drop off a suitcase she had borrowed* and to pick up some things she had left behind.  It was emotional and awful, even though two and a half months have already passed.  I wanted to say or do something that would make it better, but there isn't anything to say or do.  This is just hard.

Like many things in life are hard.  Sometimes there is no fixing separation and loneliness and illness and death.  And all you can do is give someone the biggest hug possible and cry.

*Brilliantly, she forgot the suitcase.

Monday, November 20, 2017

How I Feed Myself

I am obsessed with food.  I watch Top Chef religiously; I spend way too much money in restaurants; and when I am unhappy, a surefire way to make me happy again is to feed me good food.  That being said, I hate the fact that I have to feed myself regularly.  I'd far rather eat five really amazing meals per week than have to deal with the tedium of three meals a day, seven days a week.

Tonight, I was driving home late from a long Monday in my inner city clinic, when I realized that I was far too hungry (HAANGRY) to finish making the beef and barley soup I'd started yesterday.  There were a few things in my freezer, but I was not feeling virtuous enough to eat lentil soup or bean-packed chili.  I wanted something tasty.  My initial impulse was to go to McDonald's, but I haven't been back since my nieces informed me that there were 17 ingredients in their fries.  (I was under no illusion that McDonald's food was healthy, but I though that at least their fries were potatoes fried in oil and salted.  Nope.  I was 17 kinds of wrong on that one.)

So I decided to stop at the store.  And what I was really craving was pizza.  I could've just picked up a frozen pizza, but I've mostly been cooking at home lately, and as a result most processed food tastes like cardboard to me.  So I picked up some pita bread for crusts, along with pizza sauce, cheese, canned mushrooms, and pepperoni.  And 1 hour and 15 minutes after I pulled into the parking lot, I pulled six of these out of my oven:


(Only five are shown, because one was in my stomach by the time the photo was taken.)  Once again, the light is terrible (no natural light after 5:30!), but the pizza is super yummy.  Look closer...


Mmmm.  Given that I have five leftover pizzas to freeze, this works out to about 12 minutes per meal for shopping and cooking time.  And that's probably a bit of an overestimate for how long it took, as I spent the last 15 minutes or so sitting on the couch eating my pizza while the remaining pizzas baked.

So this is how I feed myself:  batch cooking.  I am absolutely not going to come home every night and cook for myself, but I am happy to cook big batches of food and freeze leftovers.  Whenever I hear someone say that they don't like leftovers (like my mother), I look at them like they've just grown a second head, because leftovers are my entire cooking strategy.  All hail leftovers!

(Yes, I recognize that pizza is not the healthiest dinner.  When I eat the leftovers, I'll probably invest a bit of extra time into making a salad or some veggies to make it healthier, which will likely stretch the pizzas even farther, as a whole pizza is a lot of food on its own.  With a big serving of veggies, I can probably get ten meals out of the rest of the pizza.  Also, I generally eat pretty healthy food, so I figure that on a day when I am tired and grouchy and just want to eat a quarter pounder washed down with liquid sugar, a homemade pizza is probably acceptable.)

What is your cooking strategy?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Looking Ahead to Buy Nothing Day

Since I was in university over 20 years ago, I have been an enthusiastic participant in Buy Nothing Day.  Founded in Vancouver in 1992, Buy Nothing Day is a day on which people are encouraged to literally buy nothing as a way of reflecting on the negative aspects of our consumer society.  Not coincidentally, in the United States it is held on the Friday after Thanksgiving, when many people are rushing out to the stores (and sometimes killing each other) to get a start on their Christmas/Hanukkah shopping.

I love Buy Nothing Day because I think it is all too easy to get caught up in the message that holidays are about things.  Giving the best gifts, serving the fanciest foods, and having the most festively decorated home.  And while none of those things are inherently bad (especially not the fancy food), every one of them requires an investment of time and energy and comes at the expense of other activities.  If you're out pepper spraying someone to get a deal on video games, then you aren't at home playing video games with your family.

For me, Buy Nothing Day is another reminder to be mindful.  To think about what is important to me in life and especially during the holidays, rather than just taking directions from advertisements and the dominant culture.  Over the years, I've decided to reduce my gift giving, because I don't want more things in my apartment, and because I prefer time with my family to time in the mall.  I was reminded of how ridiculous gift giving can be last weekend when I decluttered a huge portion of my apartment, as many of the things I got rid of were things that had been gifted to me.  Huge expenditures of time and money had gone into things that I ended up leaving in my apartment lobby for other people to take.

I'm really excited this year to have a full 9 days off over the holidays, which hasn't happened since my last year of medical school in 2009.  I could use some of my abundant time off to do more Christmas decorating and shop for Christmas gifts...but there is zero of me that wants to do that.  I want to hang out with my nieces and have games days with friends and eat appetizers with my Mom.  To me, these are the things that make a holiday.  Not anything that I can buy on Buy Nothing Day.

(Edited to add:  Ten days!  I actually have 10 days!  I didn't realize that the Monday (January 1) was a holiday too.  WOOOOOOO-HOOOOOOOO!!!!!)

Saturday, November 18, 2017

For the Love of Libraries

As a kid, there was no library in my neighbourhood.  Instead, a "Bookmobile" would be set up once a week in the parking lot of our local shopping mall, giving us access to a rotating assortment of books from the public library.  I made my parents take me there pretty much every week, and I can remember running up the metal stairs into the trailer, eager to see what new books awaited me.  (I was not an even remotely athletic child, so only the most exciting of things would get me to move quickly.)  I would return from those visits with a grocery bag overflowing with books and immediately park myself down on the couch to start reading.  I loved it.

My love of libraries and reading lasted until medical school, when it became my job to read and learn.  I replaced my piles of library books with Netter's Anatomy and Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, and I almost completely stopped reading for pleasure.  Where I used to easily read a book every week, after the start of medical school, I was reduced to one book on Christmas vacation and one on summer.

As a result, I also stopped going to the library.  I could no longer be guaranteed to finish a book within the three-week lending period, and I certainly couldn't be guaranteed to remember to return a book, so there was no longer a place for the library in my life.  Instead, I would periodically go to my favourite local bookstore and wander its shelves, dreaming of having time to read all of the books.  When I found something that really appealed to me, I would buy it and save it for a rare stretch of holidays.

It wasn't until I finished my licensing exam three years ago that I once again had time to read on a regular basis.  But by then, I had gotten so out of the habit of going to the library that it didn't even occur to me to go back.  I just kept buying books.  Until M started making fun of this increasingly expensive habit.

"Why don't you just go to the library?"

I blinked in confusion.  What was a library again?  And what purpose did it serve in my life, now that I was earning an income and could afford to to buy my own books?

I was initially resistant to the idea.  I wanted to own books!  And I didn't want to be limited by the small selection of our one-room local library.  Nor did I fancy having to pay overdue fines when I inevitably forgot to return the books.

I would like to say that I was a mature adult and didn't stubbornly refuse to listen to M.  But.  It took discovering Mr. Money Mustache* and wanting to live within my means to get me to go back to the library.  And, just like when I was a kid in a frigid trailer trying to grasp books through my thick wool mittens, I fell in love with it.

Of course, there is the fact that books at the library are free.  This is awesome.  I have now read 26 library books in 2017 (yay completing my Goodreads challenge!), which has saved me over $500.  Based on the 4% safe withdrawal rule, that's $12,500 less that I need to save for retirement by using the library.  But it's so much more!

I can take out books I might never read:  When I used to buy books, I would be careful to only buy something I was pretty certain I would read to the end.  I'd look up reviews, I'd ask friends, and I'd stand in the bookstore reading the first chapter to make sure it was something I liked.  Picking a book was a process!  And it limited the books I would read to books that I had some reason to think I would like (e.g. a book by a favourite author).  But with library books?  If a book looks remotely interesting to me, I will take it out.  When I see an interesting book suggestion on Twitter or Facebook or someone's blog, I add it to my "To-Read" list (now at over 200 books).  It has greatly expanded what I am reading, and my reading life is richer for it.

I don't have to finish a book I don't like:  This ties into the previous point, but when I spent $20+ on a book, I felt obligated to finish it, even if I hated it.  This has sometimes led to me wasting time on a book that I didn't enjoy or, worse, not reading at all because I didn't want to move on to another book until I finished the one I hated.  Not with library books.  Hate a book?  Return the bloody thing and move on.

I can get books from any library in my city:  Until M introduced me to it, I had no idea that there was this thing called inter-library loans that would let me order books from any library using my computer.  It's like magic.  See a book recommendation, order it online, pick it up on my way home from work within a few days.  It is amazing, and it is actually easier than going to the bookstore to buy a book.

The library reminds me to return books:  Email reminders of when books are due!  This is awesome.  I still end up paying fines sometimes, because I am lazy, but I pay far fewer fines because of this.  Plus, I can renew books online, which often lets me avoid the fines altogether.

Libraries are part of my community:  I recently read Jane Jacob's book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" (from the library, bien sûr), in which she looks at all of the important elements of a vibrant city.  She talks about all of the little daily interactions that contribute to a sense of community - chatting with the local butcher, giving a spare key to a trusted neighbour - and since reading it, I have been thinking a lot more about what makes my community.  And, it turns out that the librarians are now part of my community.  The three regular librarians recognize me, and we will often spend a few minutes chatting about books or about the librarian's cool necklace made from locally salvaged wood.  It's a small thing, but it makes me feel a little more connected to the place I've lived for the past seven years.

So, after this love letter to my favourite place in the city, it is time to read my library book.

Are you a library user?  Why or why not?

*I learned today that Americans spell it "mustache" and Brits (and Canadians) spell it "moustache".  Who knew?  I love language!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Resisting the Introvert's Tendency to Nest

Despite the winter solstice being over a month away, it is already cold and dark here.  Which means that when I'm not at work, I'm happiest when I'm on my couch with a blanket and a good library book.  (Currently reading Shrill by Lindy West on the advice of...someone?  Twitter?  A blog?  I really like it!)  As an introvert, I can go for very long periods of time with minimal human interaction and actually feel okay about it.  Until I emerge from the dark, eyes blinking in the bright sun, and realize that I haven't maintained any important relationships, of course.

I was reminded of the need to nurture relationships this week when I encountered someone who was in hospital and was very much alone.  It's bad enough for someone to be in hospital, where the beds are hard, the food is cold and bland, and there is absolutely zero privacy.  But to do it completely alone?  I never want to be in that position.  And even if I am lucky enough to avoid being in hospital, I want to always know that there are people in my life that I can turn to when I need them.

So, immediately after the interaction, I pulled out my phone and started texting.  "Friend, want to go for brunch this weekend?"  "Friends-who-are-family, let's spend a day together at Christmas and binge watch movies in our pjs!"  "Mom, want to come put up the light that I unearthed during my massive purge last weekend?"

(The last one may have been more practical than relationship-building.  But that's why we have moms, right?  Ideally, at least.)

It's good to be reminded that I need other people.  Even when I'd rather be at home in my sweatpants.